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Fulham FC 1-1 Reading FC (Play-Off Semi Final): Match Report

It was a typical tense first leg at Craven Cottage as both sides had a moment to remember and one to forget.

Fulham v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Play Off: First Leg Photo by Harry Hubbard/Getty Images

When Stuart Attwell's referring career comes to an end, maybe even when he passes away, he will ultimately be remembered for one incident involving Reading. The phantom goal against Watford in 2008 remains an incredulous moment, though Attwell's only real error was to trust his assistant whose name everyone has forgotten.

So it was somewhat ironic that Atwell was in charge when Reading played a match for the first time with goal line technology. There was further irony that the officiating of this game will be recalled for another major decision when Attwell trusted his assistant's advice.

Paul McShane's lunge on Kevin McDonald was reckless and, as the picture of this match report shows, justifiably given a straight red card. And yet the initial anger and resentment I felt still slightly lingers.

Sure he was out of control, but did the Fulham players need to make such a big deal of it and would the decision have been the same if the incident had been the other way around? Also, why were Fulham fans in the Riverside Stand baying so loudly for McShane's blood when they'd been so muted all game?

Ludicrous grudges for the neutral, but this is the playoffs, when over time you to start develop a dislike for a random club who normally you would have no reason to think about, let alone get worked up about.

Walking to Craven Cottage along the River Thames is one of the more enjoyable and unique ways to enter a football ground. It certainly felt different from previous playoff semi finals. Against Wigan, Wolves, Burnley and Cardiff there was an edge in the pre-match atmosphere.

Instead it was almost a surprise to hear an atmosphere on getting to the crowd. That sort of thing doesn't normally happen at Craven Cottage when Reading are in town.

Unfortunately, or fortunately for Reading, it became clear on entering the stands that the atmosphere was not crowd led. The music was blaring extra loud, almost at a pain to prove that the louder it was the better the atmosphere must be.

As if to prove the point the home fans had also been given clappers. Reading themselves have been guilty in the past of embarrassing their fans. Clappers do not work. They turn adults into excitable toddlers and drown out any real atmosphere.

First Half

Reading fans looked on bemused and pleased that for once it was not them hoping the wider public had failed to pick up on their own club's forced fun. Standing loud and proud they sang pretty much non-stop for the first 25 minutes before the bright sun glaze entered the away end and half the fans remembered they'd been drinking all day. Away days can be hard work.

The Reading fans were not alone in finding the game tougher as it went on. Fulham were billed as the playoffs' most exciting team, whilst everyone outside Berkshire seemed unsure what Reading were even doing in the top six.

Fulham's 5-0 rout over Jaap Stam's team in December was supposed to be a sign that this game would see a relentless wave after wave of home attacks and goals. But they never materialised.

This Reading team didn't finish third for no reason. They kept a solid shape, managed the game and slowed the pace of the game down.

And why wouldn't they. It was hot and tense. Reading were never going to win the tie on Saturday, but they'd proven enough times this season they had it in them to lose it. So they made life difficult for Fulham.

No one seemed to comment or mind that Fulham were hardly going all guns blazing themselves. They may have been more attacking, but it was clear that they were happy with the way game was going.

The first half ended without much incident. The game and ground were to soon come to life after the break.

Second Half

McShane stepped up to win the ball, the ensuing tussle left Danny Williams on the floor and he seemed to handle the ball. I didn't notice it, Atwell didn't care and McShane took charge.

Striding forward in the exact manner Irish centre backs aren't supposed to, he ended up on the edge of the Fulham box and seemed to slightly panic but just about managed to get the ball out wide to Jordan Obita.

The Reading fans held their breath as they excitedly anticipated a first shot in the game. It was better than that, much better. Obita calmy controlled McShane's pass before drilling a wonderful shot in off the far post.

Cue bedlam. Groups of lads piled down the aisles as if chased by lions. Glasses were knocked off and the lads behind me, next to me and in front of me ended up in one pile of bodies in the row in front. If you didn't end up at least one row in front it was because you were probably hugging the person next to you for dear life.

It was lads being lads, football fans being football fans, and another moment this season when Reading fans started to bring the passion back into the club. We might sing "we're on our way back" without really knowing where that way is leading to, but more importantly we're getting our soul back.

Before the game I was worried how Reading would react to a Fulham goal. Instead it was the Cottagers who struggled. Reading pushed for an unthinkable second and maybe should have had a penalty when Tom Cairney clipped Danny Williams after good work by Lewis Grabban.

Eventually Fulham regrouped and soon after took advantage of a rare time when Reading switched off. Malone was given more space down the left wing than I've had in a park on a sunny day in two and half years living in London.

With no Cockney, hipster, champagne socialist or whatever London stereotype you want to use, to invade his personal space he put a cross over which Al-Habsi pushed out for the on running Cairney to easily head home.

The Fulham fans wildly banged their clappers and their chanting became audible for the first time in the evening. With the tension rising McShane lost his head to make the last 10 minutes hard work for his side.

In truth, one Fredericks cross aside, Fulham never looked like scoring. Job done for the Royals.

Bring on Tuesday and the happy clapping ever so nice hard to dislike Fulham. If Reading avoid being stupid and trying to force it, we might have an atmosphere on Tuesday.

Fulham: Bettinelli, Fredericks, Kalas, Ream, Malone, McDonald, Johansen, Aluko (Cyriac 87), Cairney, Ayite, Martin (Kebano 61)

Reading: Al-Habsi, McShane, Moore, Blackett, Gunter, Evans, Williams, Obita, Grabban (Mendes 68 (Ilori 82)), Swift (van den Berg 74), Kermorgant

Attendance: 23,717